Legal aid cut would jail innocent public servants18 November 2009
Victims of baseless criminal allegations at work would find it far more difficult to clear their names under proposed cutbacks to legal aid.
Teachers, nurses, firefighters and paramedics would be found guilty of crimes they did not commit, according to Thompsons Solicitors, the UK’s leading trade union law firm.
Thompsons took issue with a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) plan to switch resources away from such legal assistance in order to reinforce aid in civil cases.
Responding to an MoJ consultation on reforming legal aid funding, Thompsons agreed with the assertion that during a recession legal aid in civil cases was important. People often encountered difficulties with housing, debt and welfare benefits.
However the Government’s intention of protecting people’s legal rights in one area would be counteracted by the negative impact of cutting assistance in criminal cases.
Paula Porter head of Thompsons’ National Criminal Law Unit said: “The Scales of Justice are being unbalanced by a drive to cut £9m from the legal aid budget.”
The people Thompsons act for are almost all public servants with no prior experience of criminal accusations, of good character and determined to clear their names. Almost all are suspended on full pay.
“Defending people accused of work-related crime is highly specialised. The average criminal legal aid practice usually deals with people who have experience of criminal proceedings. Quite simply, our clients don’t have any ‘form’ and would be shocked to be dealt with as if they had. It requires an entirely different approach” Paula Porter said.
Ms Porter pointed out that Thompsons criminal law unit achieved success in the overwhelming majority of cases with 95 per cent of referrals either dealt with as “no further action” or clients acquitted. “Our job is to get an innocent nurse, teacher or firefighter back working and as little bruised by the experience as possible” she said.
Thompsons endorsed the comments of legal aid minister Lord Bach that spending should focus “where Legal Aid adds most value in terms of outcomes” and to “ensure a fair return for providers” so that “Legal Aid continues to be sustainable over the longer term”.
The firm also agreed that legal aid could literally change people’s lives, as well as keeping families together and sometimes preventing a decline into criminal behaviour.
“Our work ticks every box the Minister suggests and yet in its consultation paper the Ministry of Justice threatens the excellent results that we achieve, the good value we deliver and outcomes that are best for Society.
“Having made up its mind that money has to be saved the government has then sought to find the savings irrespective of whether there is any genuine rationale for doing so.”
Read the full response by Thompsons Solicitors.